More than 100 jobs in the Royal Navy - only our photographers experience them all

The Photographic Branch

Wherever you find the Royal Navy or Royal Marines on operations, you will find a Royal Navy photographer capturing vivid imagery to tell the story.

For a century the men – and later women – of the Royal Navy’s Photographic Branch have been charged with photographing the actions of the Senior Service on operations and exercises and completing training around the globe.

Recruited from within with backgrounds either as sailors or Royal Marines, the photographers have the experience and skills to deploy alongside units. It is their knowledge and understanding of what it takes to be in the service that makes them best-placed to showcase its inner workings.

Formed in 1919 initially for reconnaissance and intelligence purposes, today the branch is busier than ever, recording and supporting the Royal Navy and Royal Marines at work. They also provide a lesser-known service to Number 10 Downing Street by being its official photographer, on rota between the three services.

After completing intensive training at the Defence School of Photography at RAF Cosford, they move to Royal Navy, Royal Marines or Fleet Air Arm bases to work alongside their colleagues.

They frequently spend six or seven months deployed with ships, squadrons or Royal Marines, sending images and video footage back to the UK for use by the nation’s media.

working around the world

From the jungles of South America and the rough seas of Cape Horne to the freezing mountains of the Arctic, where ships, Royal Marines and helicopters go, Royal Navy photographers follow. Their flexibility sees them produce imagery in all conditions.

History of the branch

Prior to World War One, all Royal Navy images were taken by serving personnel with a keen interest in photography, using their own camera equipment.

In late 1918, it was decided the Royal Navy needed an official photographic branch for intelligence and reconnaissance purposes. A year later in September 1919 an Admiralty Fleet Order was issued and a school of photography opened at Tipner Rangers (HMS Excellent) in Portsmouth.

In June 1937, changes to the branch meant photographers were no longer given dual purpose roles but were instead deployed with the sole responsibility of providing imagery. By the end of World War Two, 1,000 photographers were trained for this purpose.

In the early 1960s, public relations were seen as important and Royal Navy photography was identified as a shop window for the naval service. Photographers were asked to dispatch their film and stills while stories were still relevant - providing them to news outlets across the world.

During the 1970s, among other operations, navy photographers were called upon to capture images of the Falklands War, search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and cover VIP visits to other countries.

When digital cameras were introduced in the early 1990s, the need for instant images became greater and a dedicated Royal Navy Picture Desk was formed.

By the early 2000s, despite national media having their own photographers, access to the branch's frontline imagery saw wide use of pictures and videos for global news reporting such as the Iraq War and hurricane relief in the Caribbean.

This technology went one-step further in August 2017 when for the first time, navy photographers used Wi-Fi adaptors attached to their cameras to send back pictures of aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth entering Portsmouth for the first time. It took just four minutes between the photograph being taken and it being sent to media outlets.


LPhot Sammy Seeley explains why an advancing Royal Navy photographic branch looks to moving pictures to tell their stories

A single image, a single frame is simply a glimpse of a single moment. This single moment can be extremely powerful.

It can make you feel sad, it can make you feel happy, it can leave you feeling curious. It can also make you feel angry, feel at peace - it can make you feel everything but only for a single moment.

I was once told that you should be able to pause a video at any point and its composition should make a great still image, a single moment paused. The capturing of video is beautiful, you are capturing a series of single moments to tell a story, follow a journey and experience what makes us all thrive; a beginning, a middle and an end.

I love capturing video for the Royal Navy for one reason alone - diversity. I don’t care about the aircraft, the ships, the weapons or locations; they are simply tools to feed a narrative. For me it’s the diversity of the individual.

That one out of a hundred, whose story is so unique... that one out of a hundred who works that little harder, goes that little further and makes that little difference that the other 99 people simply do not.

Video storytelling makes this happen and it is the biggest tool we have as Royal Navy photographers to express all those single moments in a single piece.

Through audio picture, the visual look/feel, music, lighting, location, subject, narrative... you’re immersed into that story for a short time. You are subjected to challenges of refuelling at sea, the skills required to be a Royal Marine in an Arctic environment or a pilot landing on a moving ship at night, in bad weather.

With the Royal Navy having so much to offer, why only limit yourself to a single moment?


Royal Navy photographers work in all climates, conditions and situations. They need to be able to work with the elements - so their camera equipment needs to also.

Whether it is the humid and damp conditions of a rainforest, heavy snow in the Arctic or rough sea conditions, the kit has to be able to cope and be reliable.

This means all photographers know how to get the best from their cameras and how to look after them. Where you have to contend with freezing cold conditions, it is important to keep kit, especially batteries, warm by keeping them close to your body. In dusty deserts, keeping equipment clear of sand is challenging. Meanwhile when shooting out of a helicopter, photographers have to make sure kit is secure.

Often, photographers have to carry all the necessary camera gear (lenses, microphones, lights, tripods, reflectors, memory cards, batteries, chargers, wires) as well as other kit they need to survive. When out on deployment whether with Royal Marines, the Fleet Air Arm or Royal Navy ships, they have to be able to look after themselves.

In these live action scenarios, such as operations or exercises, they have one chance to get the picture. They have to be able to make quick decisions on what camera to grab, what lens to attach and the best exposure to get the ultimate shot. They rely on their knowledge and expertise to make the call - and get it right every time.


LPhot Will Haigh gives his advice on getting a great picture in live situations or uncontrolled action